"Colt, where have you been? I’ve been trying to…"
"I know. Kylie just told me."
"Oh God, Colton, it’s horrible."
I drive like a rocket all the way to Kylie’s. When I reach her house, I don’t bother knocking, I charge my way inside, my eyes seeking Sophie.
Instead I find Kylie in the front room, her expression distraught. "Thank God you’re here."
"Where is she?" I bark.
Kylie points to the back of the house. I rush down the hall and find Sophie sitting at the kitchen table looking down at her hands, a now cold mug of tea sitting beside her along with a half dozen used tissues.
The room is silent and lifeless. I fucking hate it.
"Sweetness…" I murmur against the hum of the refrigerator.
Sophie’s head lifts and her expression is one I’ve never seen her wear and one I hope to never see again as long as we live.
Her skin is pale, her mouth is drawn into a tight line, but her eyes are the worst. They are blank and unresponsive – two haunted pools of blue that, despite her silence, scream of pain and trauma so deep my stomach lurches as I fear she’ll never be whole again. Becca wasn’t just her sister, wasn’t just her best friend. She was Sophie’s twin. It’s a loss that I can’t even begin to understand.
"Come here, baby." I pull her into my arms and she rises easily, letting me pull her to my chest.
She buries her face in my throat and sobs.
I clutch her tighter, hating that she’s in pain and I can’t do a fucking thing about it. "I’m so sorry." The words feel hollow and so inadequate, I want to swallow them back down the second they leave my mouth. I want to ask what happened, but I know now is not the right time. So instead, I let her cry, holding her tightly against me and muffling the sounds of her crying with my suit jacket.
A few minutes later, her sobs quiet and I smooth her hair back away from her face. "Can I take you home?"
She nods and lets me take her hand and lead her out to the car while Kylie watches from the doorway with a sad, wistful look.
When we arrive home, I dismiss the household staff. Vacuuming and polishing crystal vases suddenly seems far less important. I lay Sophie down in my bed, where she curls into a little ball, hugging my pillow against her. I take her cell phone from her purse and call her father.
"Mr. Evans?" My voice breaks and he makes the sound of a muffled sob on the other end.
"Colton, how is she?"
"She’s in bed right now. Hasn’t spoken a word yet." I wish I had better news to report, but it’s the reality of the situation. "I’ll take care of her, sir."
"I know you will."
"What happened? Becca seemed fine when she was here…"
I learn that when Becca returned home Sunday, she complained of mild swelling and pain at the site of her port catheter. Within hours, a fever had spiked and they rushed her to the ER. The doctors began antibiotics for an infection that was roaring, unchecked through her system. Within hours of being admitted to the hospital, she’d slipped into a coma as the aggressive infection took full advantage of her weakened immune system.
Her reduced health had contributed to the problem – and the deadly infection had a direct line of access to a vein in her chest, courtesy of the port installed to make her cancer treatments easier.
Her father has to stop twice to compose himself. I tell him it’s okay – he doesn’t have to continue, but each time, he takes a few minutes to get himself under control and carries on with the story. When he’s through, I have no idea what to say. So I tell him we’ll be there soon.
After ending the call, I call Marta, instructing her to ready the pilot and my plane and to make arrangements for me to be away from work for a while. It’s the worst possible time, but disaster doesn’t plan itself around your calendar, it just sweeps in and punches you in the face, demanding your attention. And right now, this situation has my full and undivided attention – and my first priority is Sophie.
A few hours later, we’re aboard my jet and it’s ascending smoothly into the night sky. I had to carry Sophie to the car and help her board the plane. She’s weak and disoriented and that haunted empty look hasn’t left her eyes once. Not while she laid in the bed staring at the ceiling, not when I explained that we were flying home tonight, and not now – while she watches the little lights twinkling ten thousand feet below us.
I’ve packed our bags, which in addition to toiletries and random articles of clothing, each include formal black attire suited for a funeral.
I lift the bottle of bourbon from its resting place at the center console and pour myself a measure. Glancing over at Sophie, I’m reminded of our first evening together –this plane, her somber mood for an entirely different reason. She’d been fighting to save her sister’s life. My stomach tightens and I chug down a bitter sip of alcohol, needing its numbing effect now more than ever.
It’s only once we’re up in the air that Sophie speaks her first words to me.
"Can I have some of that?" she asks, nodding to the glass decanter sitting beside me.
"Of course." I’d offered her water, tea and tried to get her to eat, all of which she’d refused earlier. And while I knew the strong liquor wasn’t the best thing for her empty stomach, I wouldn’t deny her. Pouring a moderate amount in a glass, I hand it to her.
Her fingers brush mine and Sophie’s eyes lift to meet my gaze.
"I love you," I tell her.
"I know. I love you too," she says, then she takes a big gulp of her drink and grimaces.
We don’t talk about what will happen when we land. I’ve never seen her childhood home, but now isn’t the time for nostalgia. I want to provide her comfort and take away every ounce of her pain. This is the most frustrating, fucked up situation I can imagine. I hate it. I want Becca back. I want my sweet, full of life Sophie back. I hate the thought that crosses my mind – without Becca’s existence, does Sophie’s own existence dim?
She drinks two big glasses of bourbon, which I let her have against my better judgment, and then falls asleep against my shoulder.
Tightening my arms around her, I watch her as she sleeps, and vow that whatever comes next, I will be there for her.
I never thought I had to fear an infection. Cancer – the big, nasty C-word was my enemy – not some illness that crept in uninvited at the eleventh hour. It isn’t fair. And I don’t understand. She’d been doing so well.
I hate how empty and lifeless our shared bedroom feels. Yet I can’t help myself from laying on Becca’s bed since it’s the only place in the house I can still feel her.